How to make cold brew coffee like Starbucks and Cordon Bleu chefs


Cold brew coffee has become increasingly popular in recent years. Known for its smooth, less acidic taste compared to traditional hot coffee, cold brew is beloved by coffee aficionados and novices alike. Two major purveyors of quality cold brew are Starbucks and Le Cordon Bleu culinary schools. Mastering the cold brew techniques of these coffee authorities can help you make cafe-quality cold brew at home.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know to make smooth, flavorful cold brew like the experts at Starbucks and Le Cordon Bleu. Below are some of the topics we will explore:

  • The benefits of cold brew coffee
  • Cold brew vs. iced coffee
  • Choosing high-quality coffee beans
  • Grinding beans to the optimal coarseness
  • Brewing time and coffee-to-water ratios
  • Different brewing methods like immersion and slow drip
  • Flavoring and serving cold brew
  • Storing and reheating leftover cold brew
  • Troubleshooting common cold brew issues

So let’s get started learning how to make delicious cold brew coffee like the professionals!

The Benefits of Cold Brew Coffee

Before we get into the how-to, let’s look at why cold brew has become so popular lately. Here are some of the biggest benefits that set it apart from other coffee preparations:

  • Smoother, less acidic taste – The cold water used to steep the grounds does not extract bitter compounds like hot water does. The result is a mellow, smooth coffee flavor without the acidity of hot brew methods.
  • Higher caffeine content – The long steeping time of 12-24 hours extracts more caffeine from the grounds compared to a quick hot brew. Cold brew can contain up to 20% more caffeine per ounce.
  • Easier on sensitive stomachs – The low acidity of cold brew makes it easier to digest for those with sensitive stomachs. Many find it to be a gentler, stomach-friendly alternative.
  • Flexible uses – Cold brew’s smooth flavor profile makes it adaptable for use in coffee cocktails, smoothies, baked goods, and various coffeehouse-style drinks.
  • Time-saving – While it takes time upfront, you can make a large batch of concentrated cold brew to last for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.

Now that you know the many perks of cold brew coffee, let’s cover how to make it like a pro!

Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee

Before going further, it’s important to understand the difference between cold brew and iced coffee:

  • Cold brew is made by steeping coffee grounds in room temperature or cold water for 12-24 hours. This long extraction gives it a smooth taste.
  • Iced coffee starts with coffee brewed hot by typical drip, pour over, etc. methods then cooled down with ice. It has more acidity from hot extraction.

While both make a refreshing chilled coffee drink, the cold brew method specifically gives you that sweet, smooth flavor Starbucks and Le Cordon Bleu are so well known for. So we’ll focus on perfecting cold brew technique in this guide.

Choosing High-Quality Coffee Beans

The starting point for making great cold brew is choosing excellent coffee beans. Here are some tips for picking beans that will give you a smooth cold brew with rich, flavorful notes:

  • Go for medium or light roasts – Dark roasts will impart more bitterness during long steeping. Medium or light roasts allow fruity, floral notes to shine.
  • Use single origin beans – Single origin means beans from one farm or region. This lets a specific region’s flavors come through. Blends can muddle distinctive taste profiles.
  • Choose Arabica beans – Arabica beans brew a more nuanced, aromatic cup than the more bitter, robust Robusta beans.
  • Get fresh beans – Whole bean coffee is best used within 2 weeks of roasting for ultimate freshness and flavor. Buy from roasters who date their beans.
  • Sample different origins – Try beans from different growing regions like Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ethiopia to find your favorites. Each has unique characteristics.

Starbucks popular cold brew blends like the Starbucks® Cold Brew and Nariño 70 use high quality 100% Arabica beans from Latin America. Le Cordon Bleu also relies on fresh, carefully sourced Arabica beans for nuanced flavor in their cold brew training.

When you find bean origins and roasts you love, buy them whole bean and grind as needed for each batch of cold brew you make.

Grinding Beans to the Optimal Coarseness

Grinding the coffee beans to the proper coarseness is key for making smooth, flavorful cold brew. Here are some tips:

  • Use a uniform coarse grind – The grind should be similar to kosher salt or sugar. Too fine and it will make the cold brew bitter and overextracted.
  • Avoid an uneven grind – Inconsistent grind sizes will lead to both under and overextracted notes muddling the flavor.
  • Use a burr grinder – Burr grinders crush beans uniformly unlike uneven blade grinders. Conical or flat burrs work for a coarse cold brew grind.
  • Skip pre-ground coffee – Pre-ground coffee is often too fine for optimal cold brew extraction and goes stale quickly.
  • Double grind if needed – For some burr grinders, you may need to grind beans on the coarsest setting twice to get the proper texture.

Getting the right grind establishes a good foundation. Next we’ll look at dialing in ratios and steeping time.

Brewing Time and Coffee-to-Water Ratios

The length of brewing time and amount of coffee to use per volume of water (the coffee-to-water ratio) are two key factors that affect cold brew’s final flavor and strength.

Steeping Time

The ideal steeping time is 12-24 hours. This extended time allows the water to slowly extract the complex flavors from the coarse coffee grounds without extracting bitter compounds.

Some tips on steeping:

  • Start with 12-18 hours – Taste the brew after 12 hours. You can steep up to 24 if you want stronger concentration.
  • Steep at room temp – Steeping in the fridge slows down extraction. Room temp allows best flavor.
  • Agitate occasionally – Gently stirring speeds up extraction if you’re short on time.

Coffee-to-Water Ratio

The Specialty Coffee Association recommends a ratio of 1:4 to 1:8 coffee to water. This equals:

  • 1 part ground coffee to 4 parts water on the stronger end
  • Up to 1 part coffee to 8 parts water on the weaker end

To hit the ideal strength, start with a 1:6 or 1:7 ratio then adjust to taste:

  • More concentrated (1:4 ratio) – Provides bolder, stronger cold brew for drinking straight or with just a little water added. Best for cold brew purists.
  • Less concentrated (1:8 ratio) – Gives you a lighter cold brew that you can dilute further with water, milk, or ice. More flexible for making varied drinks.

As long as you’re in the 1:4 to 1:8 zone, you can tweak the ratio to find your perfect concentration.

Immersion Method vs. Slow Drip Method

There are two main methods for steeping grounds to make cold brew concentrate – immersion and slow drip. Here’s how they compare:

Immersion Method

This is the simplest and most common cold brew method. It involves steeping the coffee grounds in a container of water.

To make immersion cold brew:

  • Coarsely grind beans and combine with cool water in a jar, French press, or other container.
  • Stir to integrate then let steep at room temp for 12-24 hours.
  • After steeping, filter out the grounds through cheesecloth, a paper filter, French press screen, etc.
  • Dilute with water or milk to taste and enjoy!


  • Easy, hassle-free process with minimal equipment needed
  • Maximum extraction from grounds being completely immersed


  • Sediment at the bottom if filtration isn’t thorough
  • Needs decanting/filtering after brewing

Slow Drip Method

This method continuously drips water slowly through the grounds over several hours to gradually extract flavor.

To make drip cold brew:

  • Set up a drip brewing tower with a reusable filter basket on top and a carafe below.
  • Add coarse grounds to the filter basket then let cool water drip through them very slowly.
  • Flavorful concentrated brew drips into the carafe over 8-12 hours.


  • Automatically filters brew, no decanting needed
  • Able to customize flow rate for optimal extraction


  • More expensive and complex equipment required
  • Harder to achieve excellent extraction compared to full immersion

Both methods produce fantastic cold brew when done right. Try them both to see which process you prefer. Now let’s go over some serving tips.

Flavoring, Diluting, and Serving Cold Brew

Once your cold brew concentrate is ready, there are endless ways to flavor, dilute, and serve it. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Add a dash of simple syrup – Stirring in a teaspoon of simple syrup sweetens the coffee subtly without overpowering its flavor.
  • Splash of cream or milk – Coconut, oat, almond, or regular dairy milk adds velvety texture and natural sweetness.
  • Flavor with extracts – Vanilla, almond, chocolate extracts complement cold brew’s cocoa notes.
  • Splash of Irish cream – For an indulgent treat, top your cold brew with Baileys or DIY Irish cream.
  • Dilute to taste – Add small amounts of water until you reach your desired strength. Start with a 1:1 ratio.
  • Load with ice – Fill a glass with ice and pour cold brew over it for a refreshing iced coffee drink.
  • Float dairy on top – Layer a spoonful of thick cream or milk atop cold brew for an eye-catching look.
  • Make a foam – Aerate milk with a frother or shake vigorously to top cold brew with a light, creamy foam.
  • Use in cocktails – Combine with liquor and other ingredients for boozy baked coffee cocktails.

Endless combinations of flavors, milks, sweeteners, and liquors let you customize cold brew to your taste and mood!

Storing and Reheating Leftover Cold Brew

Like most coffee drinks, cold brew tastes freshest soon after it’s made. But you can extend its shelf life with proper storage. Here’s how:

  • Fridge storage – Concentrate keeps in a sealed jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
  • Freezer storage – You can freeze concentrate in ice cube trays for up to 3 months. Thaw as needed.
  • Reheat gently – To reuse old concentrate, reheat very gently to preserve flavor. Never boil or microwave.
  • Check for off flavors – If concentrate smells grassy or funky, it may have gone stale. Safest to discard and brew a fresh batch.

With reasonable amounts kept refrigerated or frozen, you can enjoy freshly made cold brew for weeks without waste.

Troubleshooting Common Cold Brew Issues

Even experienced cold brew baristas mess up a batch now and then. Here are some common problems and solutions:

Issue: Cold brew tastes sour or acidic

Solution: Coffee was likely ground too finely. Use a coarse grind, double grind if needed.

Issue: Bitter, overextracted flavor

Solution: Steep for less time, use a lower coffee-to-water ratio, or grind more coarsely.

Issue: Weak flavor lacking body

Solution: Try a higher coffee-to-water ratio like 1:5 or steep for a little longer.

Issue: Gritty, grainy texture

Solution: Ensure coffee is filtered thoroughly after steeping to catch all sediment.

Issue: Funky, grassy, or otherwise “off” flavor

Solution: The cold brew went bad. Safest to toss it and start a fresh batch.

Don’t get discouraged if you have some failed batches along the way. Tweaking your grind size, steep time, ratios, and technique will lead to amazing cold brew with the sweet, smooth character Starbucks and Le Cordon Bleu are so renowned for.

Making Cold Brew Like the Pros: Key Takeaways

Here’s a quick recap of the key tips for mastering cold brew like a Starbucks or Le Cordon Bleu barista:

  • Choose high-quality, medium roast Arabica beans. Grind them freshly to a uniform coarse texture.
  • Steep the grounds in room temperature water for 12-24 hours using a ratio of 1:4 to 1:8 coffee to water.
  • Extract flavors fully through immersion or slow cold drip methods.
  • Flavor, dilute, and enjoy the concentrate in various ways like over ice or in cocktails.
  • Store unused concentrate properly in the fridge or freezer.
  • Troubleshoot issues by adjusting grind size, ratios, steep time, and filtration method.

Following this best practice cold brew guide will have you brewing smooth, sweet cold brew worthy of the most discerning coffee experts. Enjoy the process of experimenting with different beans, methods, and flavorings to create your own cold brew masterpieces.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cold Brew Coffee

Here are some common FAQs about making great cold brew:

What is the best coffee bean for cold brew?

Go for medium roast 100% Arabica beans from Central and South America. Beans from Colombia, Brazil, and Guatemala are excellent choices. The medium roast and Arabica beans brew the sweetest, smoothest flavor.

Do you have to use coarsely ground coffee for cold brew?

Yes, a coarse grind is a must! Fine grounds overextract and make cold brew bitter. Aim for a grind with the consistency of sugar or kosher salt. Use a burr grinder or double grind beans to achieve an even, coarse texture.

How long does cold brew last?

Freshly brewed concentrate keeps for 2-3 weeks refrigerated. Diluted cold brew lasts 5-7 days refrigerated. You can also freeze concentrate in cubes for several months.

Can you use cold brew concentrate right away?

Technically yes, but it benefits from resting. Letting it chill for at least 12 hours after steeping improves the flavor.

What is the easiest way to filter cold brew?

Any setup that thoroughly separates the grounds from the liquid will work. Coffee filters, cheesecloth, a French press, or cold brew bags all make filtering easy.


I hope this comprehensive guide gives you all the knowledge you need to start brewing smooth, delicious cold brew coffee like a professional. Making cold brew can be an art—don’t be afraid to experiment with different beans, ratios, flavors, and serving methods until you find your perfect combination. Mastering cold extraction takes practice but it’s worth it for the sweet, subtly flavored iced coffee you’ll enjoy all summer long. Soon your homemade cold brew will have family and friends convinced you moonlight as a Starbucks or Cordon Bleu barista.